From palace to prison

It’s fun to be a British royal in Cuba.

Vanity Fair apparently found the whole thing delightful: “With make-your-own mojitos and stylish sunglasses, the future King of England proved that diplomacy can be fun.” The occasion in question was a four-day Cuba trip in late March by Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. As VF put it, they “decided to mix work and play,” seeing the island’s “nicest sites and activities” (translation: their hosts took them on what used to be called a “Potemkin tour”), “embrac[ing] Cuba’s love for vintage cars” (as if the superfluity of junky 1950 vehicles were a product of taste and not of necessity), “spoke to artists about their response to a tornado that hit Havana in January” (these were, of course, government-approved artists, not dissident ones who are languishing in jails as political prisoners), and “met with activists who work on issues connected to domestic violence” (again, they certainly didn’t meet with pro-democracy activists).

Charles, meet Che.

Town and Country was so excited by the royal drop-in that it ran a glossy spread featuring “the best photos” of it – for example, an image of the heir to the British throne posing in front of that famous mural of Che Guevara in Havana. Interesting, isn’t it, how these high-class magazines devoted to capitalist comfort are so charmed by one of the world’s few remaining Communist dictatorships? Town and Country, by the way, was one of several publications that included a photo of a bench with a statue of John Lennon seated on it. Nobody bothered to comment, however, on the appropriateness of the Lennon figure: for the fact is that the end result of the political views articulated in Lennon’s anthem “Imagine” is always a terror state like the Castro’s.

Imagine there’s no Windsors.

Then there were the British newspapers. The Express focused on a supposedly whimsical part of the tour, when Charles and Camilla were shown how to use a large press to crush sugar cane to make mojitos. In a classic photo op, the Prince of Wales tried his hand at the press, quipping, apparently to the delight of the press contingent on hand, that he was certainly “cheap labour” – riotous humor for somebody visiting a country that is, in essence, an island prison. The august Times was presumably amused too, running a headline about the wonderful success that had been achieved by the royals’ “mojito diplomacy.”

Making mojitos.

Recall that when Donald and Melania Trump visited Britain last summer, Prince Charles and his older son, Prince William, both refused to meet him, obliging the Queen to greet the President and First Lady alone. When Charles referred to the Holocaust in a speech and lamented the fact that hatreds of the kind that motivated the Nazis are still alive and well, many observers got the distinct impression that he was alluding to Trump’s so-called “Muslim ban.” Prince Harry, Charles’s second son, has also publicly badmouthed the American President. Curious how key members of the House of Windsor are so eager to be on jolly good terms with Caribbean tyrants but don’t mind insulting the elected leader of their country’s strongest ally and protector.

“More Nazi than the Nazis”

How can it have taken us so long to get around to the Mitfords? This group of aristocratic English sisters were, in their time, the very personification of useful stoogery. They were to totalitarianism what the Spice Girls were to pop music.

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The Mitford siblings in 1935: Unity, Tom, Deborah, Diana, Jessica, Nancy, and Pamela

Well, not all of them. There were six girls in toto. Pamela (1914-48) was “the boring Mitford”; Deborah (1920-2014) was the respectable one, marrying a duke and ending up being named a Dame Commander by Queen Elizabeth II for her charitable work. Nancy (1904-73) became a famous novelist. There was also a brother, Tom (1909-45), who, after refusing to take arms against the Axis powers because he was himself a fascist, was sent by the British Army to fight in Burma, where he died in battle.

But the other three sisters were – not to put too fine a point on it– pretty horrific. And one of the things that are horrific about them is that many people who should have known better celebrated them as the epitome of fabulousness. Yes, their politics might have been offensive – but oh, how beautiful, elegant, sophisticated, witty, charming, and magnetizing they were!

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Unity Mitford

Just how offensive were their politics? Just for starters, take Unity (1914-48). As some observers have joked, she was destined from conception to be a Nazi: she was conceived in an Ontario town called (of all things) Swastika and, just to top it off, was given the middle name Valkyrie. A beautiful blonde, over six feet tall, she kept a pet rat and pet snake. From an early age, she was a full-fledged Jew-hater and Nazi-lover. Her life goal was to meet Hitler, and she moved to Munich in 1934 so she could learn German and thus be able to converse with him when that magical encounter occurred.

Once in the Third Reich, Unity lost no time networking with the Nazi beau monde. After the Nazi newspaper Der Stürmer published a letter in which she proclaimed her anti-Semitism, the paper’s editor, Julius Streicher, was so impressed that he invited Unity to speak to a crowd to 200,000 at a summer festival. He also invited her to his home, where after a dinner party, by her own account, he brought up Jews “from the cellar” and made them “eat grass to entertain the guests.” She gave no sign of finding this spectacle offensive. Far from it.

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Unity Mitford with Julius Streicher

While waiting to bump into the Führer, Unity also began the practice – buckle your seatbelts, now – of inviting groups of SS officers to her flat, where, beneath large swastika banners and surrounded by framed portraits of Hitler, they ravished her in sadomasochistic orgies while the “Horst Wessel Song” (the Nazi Party anthem) played on a victrola. These erotic escapades were conceived by Unity as a kind of “eucharist” – as dark, perverse acts of Hitler-worship.

Then came the day she described in a letter to her father as the “most wonderful and beautiful” of her life: she finally met Hitler. He had heard about her antics with his SS men, and was curious about (which is to say, apparently turned on by) them. She told him that “she only thought of him during these acts, and they were a symbol of her submission to his control.” He told her to keep up with the SS sex sessions, and over the next few years she socialized with the Führer frequently, routinely recounting to him the details of her latest gang-bang.

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Unity with Hitler

Hitler was so fond of Unity that he let her pick out a new apartment for herself from a list of those that had been expropriated by the authorities from their rightful Jewish owners. (Reportedly, “the owners of the one she chose sobbed as they watched her comment on the curtains.”) Hitler also told Unity that the two of them would spend the afterlife together, and he put it in her head that at some point she would have to kill herself so that they could be reunited in Valhalla. She was so close to him, and so fervent in her admiration, that the British Secret Services described her as being “more Nazi than the Nazis.”

It was over lunch in August 1939, only three weeks before the invasion of Poland, that Hitler informed Unity that it was time for her to take her life. A month later, after the war had begun, she shot herself in the head in Munich’s Englischer Garten. But she survived, and Hitler had her and her hospital stretcher put on a train to Switzerland. From there she was transported back to England, where she died in 1948 – three years after her beloved Führer had effected his own translation from this world to the next.